Division races heating up in the NFL

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The NFL regular season is nearly halfway complete with 18 of the league’s 32 teams playing game No. 8 this week.

Both unbeaten teams in action last week won with Carolina defeating Philadelphia last Sunday night after New England came from behind to defeat the Jets a few hours earlier.

The other three perfect teams remained unbeaten as Cincinnati, Denver and Green Bay had their bye weeks. The ranks of the unbeaten should be reduced by at least one this week as, barring an overtime tie, Denver hosts Green Bay this Sunday night.

Both New England and Carolina are favored to remain unbeaten as they host Miami and Indianapolis respectively with the Pats and Dolphins starting Week 8 action on Thursday. The Panthers and Colts end the week next Monday.

The Bengals could be in danger of suffering their first loss when they travel to Division rival Pittsburgh on Sunday, quite likely facing a Steelers team that will have Ben Roethlisberger back at QB. There was some thought Big Ben would play last week against Kansas City but the two time Super Bowl champion was not yet ready.

Division races are starting to come into focus although teams still have 8 or 9 games remaining.

The AFC South is the weakest division in football with Indianapolis leading the way at 3-4. The NFC East has just one winning team, the 4-3 Giants. Arizona could be leading the NFC West at 4-3 had they lost at home to Baltimore this past Monday night although heavily favored to emerge 5-2.

No other team in the Cardinals’ division is above .500 with 3-3 St. Louis in second place, a half-game ahead of two-time defending NFC champion Seattle who, at 3-4, is in danger of missing the playoffs, a not uncommon phenomenon for defending Super Bowl runners up. (Referring to such teams as Super Bowl losers tends to diminish the accomplishment of reaching the Super Bowl, although loser is, in fact, a proper description).

Only two non-Division leaders in the AFC have winning records and thus are in early control of the Wild Cards – the 4-2 Jets and 4-3 Pittsburgh.

A similar situation exists in the NFC where 6-1 Atlanta and 4-2 Minnesota are the only non-Division leaders with winning records.

Rather than defining parity, the above suggests an NFL with more than its fair share of the haves and have nots. It will be interesting to see if this continues deeper into the season or if we see a bunching up in the standings in most of the eight divisions.

Here’s a preview of the Week 8 schedule in which Buffalo, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Washington have their byes while Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver and Green Bay return to action.


Miami Dolphins +7.5 at New England Patriots (O/U 51): It’s hard to sustain such a high level of play as Miami has shown in their past two games. The line at the Westgate prior to last weekend had the Pats as double digit favorites. The adjustment following this past week’s games appears too much. NEW ENGLAND.


Detroit Lions +4.5 vs. KC Chiefs (47) (London, England): The third and final game across the pond for this season features a pair of teams that have disappointed both their fans and their backers thus far. The Chiefs snapped their 5-game losing streak with a hard earned win over surging Pittsburgh. Fundamentally the Chiefs have a much better statistical profile with the better rushing game, the better defense and a much better ability to protect the football compared to Detroit. KANSAS CITY.

Minnesota Vikings -1.5 at Chicago Bears (42): Prior to the bye Chicago had won 2 of 3 following an 0-3 start. Although the Vikes have most of the statistical edges, asking a young team to not just win but also cover on the road for a second straight week may be asking a bit too much given their history over the past half-decade. CHICAGO.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +7 at Atlanta Falcons (48): Both offenses have been able to effectively run the football with each averaging at least 130 yards per game. Despite their collapse in Washington, Tampa is allowing just 5.2 yards per play, a top 10 ranking. Atlanta’s defense is also much improved from last season and has continued that improvement over the past month. UNDER.

NY Giants +3.5 at New Orleans Saints (49.5): Both teams have issues on defense and both offenses are led by Super Bowl winning QBs. Neither team has a strong running game although both teams ran the football well last week. Fundamentally this matchup handicaps as a high scoring contest with both offenses holding edges over the opposing defenses. OVER.

San Francisco 49ers +7.5 at St. Louis Rams (39): The 49ers have extra rest but it may not matter after their ugly performance in a 20-3 home loss last Thursday to Division rival Seattle. Now the Niners take to the road where they have not fared well. The Rams returned from their bye with an impressive win over Cleveland. Both teams have scored 10 or fewer points three times this season and 3 of their last 5 meetings have produced fewer than 37 total points. UNDER.

Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns (No Line): The combination of Arizona having played Monday night and a banged up QB Josh McCown for the Browns keeps this game off the board. Arizona is projected as a 4 to 5 point favorite. On a yards per play basis Arizona leads the NFL in offense (6.8 ypp) and is number 3 on defense (5.3 ypp). Arizona’s passing game ranks first in yards per pass completion (13.5) and will face a Cleveland defense that ranks second to last in yards per pass completion allowed (12.2). ARIZONA.

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (No Line): QB Ben Roethlisberger is expected back for the Steelers this week but until his status is more certain this game is off the boards. Entering the season the Pittsburgh defense was transitioning and expected to improve as the season progressed. With a healthy Roethlisberger the Steelers are a formidable contender that needs to make up ground following a 4-3 start. This handicaps as Cincinnati’s first loss of the season. PITTSBURGH.

San Diego Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (No Line): Baltimore played at ArizonaMonday night and is expected to be just under a FG favorite vs the Chargers barring any key injuries. The Chargers were embarrassed at home by Division rival Oakland, outplayed from the start of the contest and falling behind 37-6 just after halftime. Baltimore’s defense has been a major concern since they lost Terrell Suggs in their opening loss at Denver. If Baltimore lost as expected Mondaynight it would be hard to back either the 2-5 Chargers or the 1-6 Ravens with any degree of confidence. Perhaps the best way to approach this game would be to go against a pair of struggling defenses facing a pair of accomplished quarterbacks. OVER.

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (No Line): The status of Titans’ rookie QB Marcus Mariota keeps this game off the boards on Monday. This is a great spot for the hosts as Tennessee is on the road for the first time since week two. The Texans have their bye next week. And Tennessee is a very beatable foe. Although RB Arian Foster is lost for the season, Houston played the first month of the season without him so the offense has already game planned without his presence. HOUSTON.

NY Jets -1 at Oakland Raiders (44): This is one of most intriguing matchups of the week between a pair of teams that have shown significant improvement this season. Both teams have been above average in defending the run. The Jets have shown a better ability to run the football on offense. The home team has won the past three meetings played over the last four seasons with the Jets winning in both 2013 and 2014. The spot is tougher for the Jets following their tough loss to the defending Super Bowl champs and now having to travel cross country. OAKLAND.

Seattle Seahawks -5.5 at Dallas Cowboys (40.5): Since losing QB Tony Romo to injury the Cowboys have gone 0-4 both SU and ATS. Seattle’s issues along the offensive line play into the strength of the Dallas defense. The return of Bryant will help the passing game behind QB Matt Cassel. And after being held to 80 rushing yards in their opening game win over the Giants, Dallas has rushed for at least 100 yards in each game since including 233 in last week’s rematch with the Giants. DALLAS.

Green Bay Packers -2.5 at Denver Broncos (45.5): The marquee matchup of the weekend and a potential Super Bowl preview has both teams well prepared following a bye week for each. Both teams are unbeaten at 6-0. Denver has relied much more on its outstanding defense for its success rather than the offense that has had offensive line issues contribute to a shaky start for future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning. Green Bay has relied on an excellent balance between an offense led by its Future Hall of Fame QB Aaron Rodgers and a defense that gets often overlooked because of Rodgers and the offense. These teams are a combined 9-2-1 ATS, which suggests strong cases can be made for both teams. Each is also 4-2 to the UNDER, which supports an expectation for a low scoring game. Both teams have top ten defenses on a yards per play basis. UNDER.


Indianapolis Colts +6.5 at Carolina Panthers (46): QB Andrew Luck had another sub-par performance, which has become the standard for him this season. Carolina continues to build a strong statistical profile that includes the NFL’s best rushing offense (145 ypg), a top five defense (4.8 ypp) and the ability to avoid turning the football over. The Panthers are the epitome of a team that wins without being flashy, which is why they continue to fly under the radar as a legitimate title contender. CAROLINA.

NFL Last Week: 7-6-0

NFL Season: 43-57-4

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in- season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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